In the last post we saw Jesus give his disciples a task that would see the known civilised world hear about Jesus by the end of the century and Christianity become the official religion of empire within 300 years. How did Jesus prepare them for such a work?
He showed himself to them. Jesus' post-resurrection appearances were not simply magic tricks but were vital in presenting evidence of the reality of the resurrection. Luke describes these appearances as , “many convincing proofs that he was alive.” (Acts 1:3)
Paul tells us “he appeared to [Peter] then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time...Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me also.” (1 Cor:15:5-8)
During these times, we’re told, “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom.” (Acts 1:3) These were his parting instructions and what the disciples passed on to others, to us, are the words of Jesus.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus ascended the way he did? He had been appearing and disappearing miraculously for forty days. Why didn't he just go and not come back? I suggest it is because he wanted their focus to change. They were not to wait around for his next resurrection appearance but were to wait for the Holy Spirit.
“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 1:4-5)
God had been with them for three years in the person of Jesus but now it is by the Holy Spirit that God was to dwell in his people. It is interesting to step back and take a panoramic view of Luke’s account. Luke began with the temple in his gospel, with the story of Zechariah, and now he ends his gospel story with the promise of a new, living temple. A temple indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul writes,
Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?(1 Cor.3:16)
The Spirit would to come to make the church, the people of God, a living temple. Luke brings the church onto the scene with a clear picture of what church is; a blood-bought, Spirit-filled, kingdom-motivated new humanity. There are huge things of eternal consequence happening here. It is these great truths to which the disciples are witnesses to the ends of the earth. John wrote,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life...that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.” (1 John 1:1-3)
I wonder if we value as we should these first eye-witness accounts? Every time we read them they witness to us again.
2. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, explaining that all that had happened was a fulfilment of what had been prophesied in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. We see him do this with the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:45-46)
Here we see Jesus cutting across their confusion over recent events and developing a biblical theology; it is written. Jesus peppered his teaching with “it is written” How can we be sure this message is true? Because God promised it of old, Jesus fulfilled it when the time was right, the disciples witnessed it and we are commissioned to tell the good news of it in the same power of the Holy Spirit and with the same biblical and apostolic authority; it is written.
His commissioning words to the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” apply to us and the message we are sent to proclaim is what is written by them, the message of Scripture. Every truth claim is brought to the plumb-line of God's written word. Every proclamation of God's word should be firmly rooted in Scripture and every promise on which we stand is found in the Bible and fulfilled in the wonderful events the Bible describes.
3. He sent his Holy Spirit, giving us a spiritual dynamic. What we have to share with the world isn't simply dry words, speculative philosophy, ink on paper, but the preaching of the Word is accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit that convicts sinners, changes hearts, forms new minds, makes a people new in Christ.
When someone comes under the preaching of the word and finds themselves convicted by what they hear it is not the persuasive power of the preacher but the work of the Spirit that has brought conviction. When someone acts on that conviction and is moved to turn to Jesus the preaching informs them but it is the Spirit that moves them. When they confess their need of a Saviour and are born again it is the work of the Spirit not of the preacher.
When people challenge, “Where is this Saviour who is supposed to come again? Where is your God?” we can reply that God already dwells in his people by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has not left us orphans; we don't operate in his absence. The Bible speaks of the Spirit's power in Christians to witness effectively, for victory over sin, over Satan, and power to work miracles.
We will look again at power and authority and discover where we fit in this great scheme to redeem all creation and bring all things under one head, king Jesus.
Previously: To the End of the Earth – Ascension